Previously we have discussed how Mrs. Megan McArdle is the smartest econoblogger who ever blogged and the nicest, most moral, most superior elite of all elitedom. But Megan McArdle's imaginary gifts do not end there. Pish and tosh! McArdle is also the bestest, most knowledgeable and most gifted cook as well. And now we have the video to prove it!
For McArdle, all things are possible and all roads lead to success, so it was inevitable that she would advance to giving us little demonstrations of her expertise on video. It takes more than one medium to reveal her awesomeness, you know! Having conquered print, where she reigns as the Queen Bee of The Atlantic, McArdle demonstrates to us lucky, lucky peasants the correct and modern way to make a cake. Now we not only are able to see her words and hear the special wisdom as she passes it down the social ladder, we get to see her, nestled amongst all her kitchen things that we previously were forced to envy from afar, sight unseen.
And, best of all, we get to hear that well-bred voice imparting its wisdom. Many a time I said to myself, "You know what? The only thing that could possibly improve this Megan McArdle column would be if I could hear her read it herself, so that every inflection, every syllable, could magically transmit the nuance of her meaning." And now---I can.
Excuse me, I must compose myself.
There, that's better.
As McArdle tells us in the article that accompanies her cooking video, she is a "foodie." Foodies are not your ordinary, everyday people; they are special people who have a special relationship with food.
Foodie is an informal term for a particular class of aficionado of food and drink. The word was coined in 1981 by Paul Levy and Ann Barr, who used it in the title of their 1984 book The Official Foodie Handbook.
Although the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, foodies differ from gourmets in that gourmets are epicures of refined taste who may or may not be professionals in the food industry, whereas foodies are amateurs who simply love food for consumption, study, preparation, and news. Gourmets simply want to eat the best food, whereas foodies want to learn everything about food, both the best and the ordinary, and about the science, industry, and personalities surrounding food. Foodies are a distinct hobbyist group. Typical foodie interests and activities include the food industry, wineries and wine tasting, breweries and beer sampling, food science, following restaurant openings and closings, food distribution, food fads, health and nutrition, and restaurant management. A foodie might develop a particular interest in a specific item, such as the best egg cream or burrito. Many publications have food columns that cater to foodies. Interest by foodies in the 1980s and 1990s gave rise to the Food Network and other specialized food programming, popular films and television shows about food such as Top Chef and Iron Chef, a renaissance in specialized cookbooks, specialized periodicals such as Gourmet Magazine and Cook's Illustrated, growing popularity of farmers' markets, food-oriented websites like Zagat's and Yelp, publishing and reading food blogs (a number of people photograph and post on the Internet every meal they ever make or consume), specialized kitchenware stores like Williams-Sonoma and Sur La Table, and the institution of the celebrity chef.
How does Megan McArdle know that she is one of these special, educated, sophisticated people? Foodies always want the best, and Megan McArdle always wants the best. So of course she is a foodie!
It has come to my attention that many of you are still using pre-ground pepper, and really, my friends, that has to stop. You might as well take what's left over in the garden ashtrays after a party and sprinkle it over your eggs--at least it would save you some money, and wake you up a bit. Almost all spices are best fresh ground, because the essential oils that give them their flavor dissipate very quickly--but pepper suffers particularly badly, turning bitter and lifeless.
I love loose leaf tea, which has a better flavor than tea bags (tea bags grind the tea finer, which means it goes stale faster).
And let's not forget McArdle's signature flavoring, the one that best embodies her refined and educated taste:
Exotic salts are the new Green Peppercorns and White Truffle Oil, and in my opinion, considerably more interesting. If you use expensive salts for flavoring your cooking (or putting on top of your food), a wooden salt keeper can keep them from getting too humid and clumping together. Right now I'm using Maldon sea salt for most things, and pink Himalayan salt for dishes that demand a lighter flavor.
Not that McArdle is a snob, dear me, no. Since she works very long hours in her demanding career of blogger for a major metropolitan news magazine, she sometimes finds herself with no time to cook, and therefore just warms up chicken nuggest in the toaster oven, or some other little bit of savory goodness she found in the freezer case at Trader Joe's. Since McArdle, and therefore all of her friends, and therefore all of the world, is caught in this terrible dilemma of spending tens of thousands of dollars on kitchen they seldom use, McArdle investigated this burning investigative issue, and shared her finding with us in her article. It seems that McArdle was unable to actually come to a conclusion regarding why she spends so much money on her kitchen while seldom cooking, but she does inform us that it's really cool to have so many more expensive appliances than people used to have in the dim past, such as the 1950s, when appliances hadn't been invented yet.
When we’re spending on leisure rather than drudgery, we think about our purchases very differently. Jobs are about cost-benefit analysis, which is why no one buys ultra-premium paper clips for their home office—in fact, many people who cook for a living make fun of amateurs like me, with our profusion of specialty knives and high-end pans. Leisure is as much about our pleasant fantasies as it is about what we’re actually doing. If you see cooking as an often boring part of your daily work, you’ll buy the pots you need to finish the job, and then stop. But if it’s part of a voyage of personal “rediscovery,” you’ll never stop finding new side trips to take—and everyone who’s been on a nice vacation knows the guilty pleasure of spending a little more than you should. [my bold]
"Leisure is as much about our pleasant fantasies as it is about what we’re actually doing." It certainly is! Megan McArdle has a very pleasant fantasy of being a New York foodie and lots of very nice men who own corporations are very happy to sell her and her friends things to make that fantasy seem real. It works beautifully. McArdle knows so much about buying kitchen equipment that she just has to be an expert on food as well.
In fact,* McArdle is such a special foodie that she doesn't even need to learn about cooking to be an expert in cooking. She just absorbs the knowledge from the elite milieu she lives in. She watches FoodTV on her TIVO and leafs through some food magazines and reads The New York Times food section religiously to follow the latest trends, and what else could an elite person need to do? Go through the day-to-day drudgery of planning menus and writing grocery lists? Spend years, decades even, cooking thousands of dinners? Pfttt! You don't know your elite very well, do you? LOL!
Enough preamble: On with the movie! I'm so excited I can't eat my Junior Mints!
"The Atlantic Presents: Megan Cooks!" by Mrs. Megan McArdle, foodie extraordinaire and sparkle princess:
(Oh my goodness, look at the walls. McArdle has at least 13 pots on the wall of her kitchen! No wonder her guests wander into the kitchen to look at all of her pans, as she tell us.)
McArdle tells us that she will demonstrate why "we" spend so much on kitchens by showing us how incredibly hard it was for Grandma to make a cake, compared to making a cake today. No doubt Granny is kicking herself that she couldn't afford a Viking range, as we all should be doing. Not buying a $10,000 range will give corporations a sad, and McArdle hates to see unhappy corporations. McArdle tells us that our great-grandmothers, whom we will call 1900 Granny, didn't have measuring cups or spoons, which is one of the reasons we are so lucky to live in modern, albeit very expensive, times. When McArdle tries to make her cake the 1900 way, she has no idea how to measure the butter! McArdle lets us know that they had to guess, and that a recipe might call for a knob of butter the size of an egg so 1900 Granny would put the butter in water and measure the water displacement to tell if the amount was correct. We are not sure why 1900 Granny didn't just scoop up some butter the size of an egg instead of going through an additional step, but we are not a member of the elite and therefor probably just didn't soak up McArdle's elite knowledge. This osmosis knowledge situation probably also explains how 1900 Granny knew how much water was displaced when she didn't have a measuring cup.
McArdle is all smiles as she shows us that she just needs to unwrap two sticks of butter and put them in a bowl. Modern life is wonderful, and pre-measured butter proves that you needed that $200 blender. Next she creams her butter and sugar together by hand, the 1900 way. It sure looks hard, as McArdle chases the butter and sugar around and around in the bowl. 1900 Granny would have pressed down on the butter, kneading the sugar in instead of scooting it around the bowl, but let's not be pedantic about it. Modern cooks don't need to know how to cream sugar because they have a Kitchen Aid, and McArdle shows us how easy it is to cream sugar and butter, and then beat in eggs. 1950 Granny would have taught McArdle that cracking an egg into a beating mixer is not too smart; if you drop in an eggshell you have to throw everything away, but that is the sort of thing that experience teaches you, and as McArdle already told us, she talks about cooking a lot more than doing any actual, you know, cooking.
We are not sure why McArdle seems to think 1950 Granny didn't have a mixer and therefore nobody used mixers in the 1950s, no matter what the history books and our own eyes (or the eyes of our parents) have told us. Maybe that's an elite thing too.
Having assembled the wet ingredients, McArdle moves on to the dry ones, namely, flour, which McArdle shows us was laboriously shifted by moving a flour sifter's little crank around and around until the two (presumably unmeasured) cups of flour are pressed through the wire bottom. McArdle tells us that this aerates the flour, which is why earlier Grannies had to sift. They also had to sift to remove impurities or coarse bits from milled grain, which is no longer necessary. McArdle does not share this bit of wisdom; perhaps she is saving it for Christmas baking stories. I just use a fork, while McArdle uses a Cuisinart to aerate the flour, which proves that she is far more elite than I. She does not show us the five minutes it takes to wash and dry the bowl and top, but perhaps elite people have servants for that sort of thing and I do not properly appreciate how lucky I am that people are able to use modern conveniences to save so much time in the kitchen.
Now McArdle is ready to add milk, and tells us that back in the '50s, milk came in bottles and had a higher cream content, while her own milk is lowfat. So we no longer have to shake our milk to mix in the bit of cream that rose to the top, which is, no doubt, a great labor-saving practice for these modern times. Unfortunately McArdle needs whole milk, so she must add cream, another step that only proves that it's better to live now, in the convenient if not time-saving era of low-fat milk.
Aren't you exhausted, 1950s Cook? I know I am just, watching her travails and labors.
Next McArdle shows off her easy-pour bowls, which have poured some of their contents on her counter but must be wonderful because spouts on bowls are a brand-new things, or at least these spouts on these bowl surely are. The nuts come next, and McArdle lets us know that in these convenient times we are able to buy shelled nuts, unlike 1900s Granny. Presumably 1950s Granny could buy shelled nuts; McArdle doesn't say. Planter's lets us know that it was selling shelled nuts in 1919, but no doubt McArdle would just say that her granny didn't have them, so nobody did. Most women probably did shell their own nuts, or (and I speak from experience), have one of the kids do it. The nuts would taste much better, but McArdle didn't promise us fresh nuts, she promised us less time in "our" expensive kitchens. McArdle cracks a nut on a handy little levered nut cracker and tells us that 1900 Granny wouldn't have even had that, although the Victorians loved kitchen gadgets and invented hundreds of them. Woops, that must not be elite knowledge either.
McArdle uses the food processor again (there goes another five minutes of cleaning) to chop the nuts, something that would take 1950s Granny a good three minutes. Then she shows us how her mother would have had to butter and flour the pan. My mother would have insisted I use cheaper Crisco, but we are not here to relive my childhood traumas. My mother, who was a private chef and a baker for part of her life, was elite for none of her life and did not know better, I suppose. McArdle uses Baker's Joy, which costs a lot more than a bit of grease and flour but saves time. That is, she uses it on one pan; the other looks unsprayed. Sadly, no amount of money can make one attentive while cooking.
McArdle tells us that 1900 Granny had big, strong arms from working in the kitchen; fortunately she herself does not seem to have that problem, and seems to find the mixing bowl heavy when she pours out the batter. McArdle explains the minutes she saved by her electric convection oven and its even browning. Our Grannies had gas, which browns beautifully, but no matter. McArdle's oven cost a lot more than Granny's and therefore it must be much better. The magic of video cuts to the finished cakes, which have been removed from their pans and left to cool on wire racks. By the look of one of the cakes McArdle did indeed neglect to grease the pan; it has breaks in the surface. I use something that McArdle does not, very modern silicone cake pan liners. I still must grease the pans but the cakes pop out of the pan perfectly every time. However the liners did not cost very much, so I suppose the real cooking elites don't know about them.
McArdle then moves on to the whipped cream filling, telling us that she will show the difference between 1900, 1950 and modern cream whipping. She tells us that "old school" Granny would have used a fork or maybe even a whisk, but 1900 Granny had egg beaters. McArdle does not describe what 1950s Granny would use.
There is a little confusion regarding 1950s Granny, we must admit. McArdle has told us that she didn't have mixers, or rather that she did but they weren't that common, or rather they were common but they don't count because not everyone had one. I know, it's confusing, but that's just what happens when osmosis is your teacher; sometimes your absorb contradictory facts and must do your best with the results. Nobody said it was easy being a member of the elite.
McArdle beats her cream with an immersion blender, which earlier Grannies did not have, although they did have standing blenders, which were invented in the 20s according to some people who are not McArdle. But obviously they don't count. The immersion blender seems to work well although the cream for McArdle's filling is rather runny. More experienced cooks would have beaten it until it was a bit stiffer but the point is to get out of the kitchen sooner, not to make better cakes!
McArdle tells us that confectioner's sugar (icing sugar) was not readily available for 1900 Granny, who would have used a rolling pin to crush the sugar. We are very lucky to have McArdle around to explain such things to us, as I actually thought that powered sugar has been around since the turn of the century! In old books I've seen it called "pounded" sugar, because it was ground with a mortar and pestle, but McArdle tells us something else and she must be right and everyone else must be wrong.
Finally the cake is filled, assembled and iced, and what a time-saving marvel it is. Unfortunately McArdle did not know enough to double the recipe--frosting recipes often make only one cup and you need at least two to frost a cake well. But one would have to bake a lot to know that, and the purpose of spending so much money on baking equipment is to spend less time in the kitchen, not more! My goodness, how many times do I have to remind you! The resulting cake is a bit uneven and messy and cost about a thousand dollars in cooking equipment to make, but it sure was quick.
*an imaginary fact, not a real fact.